I am Jedi, hear me roar.
A long time ago, on a PC far, far away, the forces of Light and Dark clashed. A young Jedi named Kyle Katarn was at the forefront of the battle, but it is still not clear exactly which side he fought for.
When last we saw Kyle, he had turned his back on the Force and gave up his lightsaber to avoid the temptations of the Dark side. But like young Jacen Solo would find out many years later; Kyle will learn that you can't run from the Force. And it's a good lesson, too, since this story makes for a great game.
Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast is the next stage in the evolution of LucasArts' excellent Dark Forces series. This FPS / Action game takes a Jedi chokehold of classic Star Wars action and injects it with a rancor-sized dose of the Force. It's got lightsaber battles, Force powers, good Jedi, bad Jedi, and more scum and villainy than a cantina on Tatooine.
The story starts off with Kyle and his partner heading out to Kejim, a remote planet that has been the center of some suspicious activity. Lo and behold, Kejim turns out be the home of some nasty remnants of old Imperial forces led by one Admiral Galak Fyyar. Even after the fall of the Emperor, it looks like the New Republic still has some serious clean up work to do.
From these simple beginnings emerge a story rife with Jedi politics that will take you all over the galaxy. If you've ever tackled any of the Dark Forces games, you have an idea of what you're in for.
The game is authentic Star Wars, through and through. You'll wield all sorts of classic weapons, including the standard E-11 Stormtrooper rifle to the always handy Merr-Sonn PLX-2M Portable Missile System. Furthermore, almost every weapon has an alternate method of attack, giving you even more options to take out pesky enemies.
Though you'll have plenty of firepower at your fingertips, you're a Jedi after all, which means there are two very special weapons that you can't live without: your trusty lightsaber and the somewhat less trusty though just as useful Force.
Interestingly enough, selecting the lightsaber will smoothly bring you out of first-person and into a third-person action view, though you can switch between perspectives at will. The third-person allows for better vision as well as the ability to handle certain puzzle elements more easily. It also allows you to view lightsaber battles in full cinematic glory.
I've played a ton Star Wars games in my time, and I don't think any of them can match the excitement and fun of lightsaber play in Jedi Outcast, particularly when you throw in the Force powers. You can Force Push and Pull, Force Jump, even bust out a Jedi Mind Trick or put the squeeze on with a Force Choke.
When it all flows together, it's quite remarkable. You'll deflect a few laser shots with your saber, jump flip over an enemy, Force Push another bad guy over a cliff, then smoothly spin around and slice off the hand of the guy you just flipped over. You actually feel like a Jedi when you play this game.
The aesthetics are pretty much what you'd expect. Powered by the Quake III Arena engine, Jedi Outcast looks a tad on the dated side. Some of the later outdoor levels really show the wrinkles in this engine, but the action is generally smooth and the universe is accurately portrayed. One nice touch in particular is the sparking of the lightsaber as it burns through different surfaces.
The sound remains true, with all of the original John Williams music. I don't think I'll ever get tired of that soundtrack.
One of the strongest features of Jedi Outcast is the evolution of the gameplay. Most first person shooters are straightforward from beginning to end - just find a bunch of guns and proceed to blow up everything that gets in your way. Jedi Outcast, however, only begins that way. As soon as you pick up a lightsaber and begin dabbling in the Force, the guns take a backseat to ways of the Jedi, which really defines the game. As your Force powers develop, you'll slowly begin to discover new methods and strategies for sticky situations.
And you'll need all the powers you can get, since Jedi Outcast is one challenging game. The game is full of puzzles, from your basic 'how-do-I-open-this-door' deal to the more complex Force-powered conundrums. At times, you'll need all of your gaming skill to figure out simply which direction to go next. But unlike plenty of other games, these puzzles actually make sense and the difficulty level is high without being frustrating. Jedi Outcast will make you think.
If you played the first Jedi Knight, you may be wondering if your path in the Force will be affected by your actions. Sadly, your actions won't change the development of the game. I miss this feature, but at least you'll be able to use all Force powers, both Light and Dark.
Unfortunately, the Dark side does in fact rear its head in the form of the occasional annoying platformer bits. I love using the Force as much as the next guy, but Force Jumping from tiny ledge to tiny ledge is not on my Jedi list of things to do.
Jedi Outcast also brings along a nice multiplayer option. With several types of games, including Free-For-All and Capture the Ysalamiri, you won't have any problems finding fun when the single player game is done. Every player is able to call votes for player kicks, so you won't get stuck with an AFK or a cheating bastard. Don't have a modem that's up to the task? Well worry not, for Jedi Outcast includes AI bots for you to play with. Looks like LucasArts has thought of it all.
So whether you're a scruffy nerf herder or a pointy-eared Jedi Master, you'll enjoy Jedi Outcast. It's got great action from two perspectives, mind-bending puzzles, and enough Force-powered Star Wars action to keep you up 'til the banthas come home.